In 2013, Washington ranked sixth in percentage of women in its legislature at 32 percent, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. While this is progress, the AS strives to make this percentage even higher with Elect-Her, an event that seeks to encourage women to run for elected offices.
“The objective is to give the tools and knowledge necessary for women to know how to get into office in order to work towards remedying the obvious lack of representation of women in elected positions,” said Representation and Engagement Program Associate Director Graham Marmion.
The free event runs from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8 in Viking Union 567 and includes training sessions aimed to motivate and prepare women to take on leadership roles. While Elect-Her is targeted towards female-identified students, anyone is welcome. However, there are only 50 spots available and registration is on a first-come-first-served basis. In addition to training sessions, the event features guest speakers from both students and local officials. Last year the event included appearances by City Council person Cathy Lehman and Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville. It will also help connect students to politically-oriented opportunities, including scholarships and internships.
Elect-Her is sponsored by the Representation and Engagement Program, the Women’s Center, Western Votes, Board of Directors and the American Association of University Women, an organization focused on empowering women and promoting equality.
“I definitely wanted to be on the planning committee for [Elect-Her] because female-identified people are just so underrepresented in politics,” said Women’s Center Coordinator Sara Wozniak. “Well, really anyone that isn’t a white cis[gender]* man is. That voice just usually isn’t there.”
Women, and other underrepresented groups, face many obstacles breaking into the political field and leadership roles.
“I think one of the biggest obstacles is that people just aren’t used to seeing a strong woman leader. If you’re not a cis[gender] man, if you’re not the norm, then your gender is just going to be a huge, main point that people are going to pay so much attention to when that might not have anything to do with your politics at all,” Wozniak said. “It’s like why do we make comments on what Hilary Clinton was wearing, when no one cares about what Bill Clinton was wearing? Women just aren’t taken as seriously.”
Elect-Her seeks to help women face these obstacles head-on with proper training and a community full of support.
“It’s really important to encourage young women to go out and run for office, even if it is just at Western, because I think people are more likely to focus on issues that relate more to them,” Wozniak said.
Since the first event in 2010, Elect-Her has inspired many of Western’s female-identified students to take on more leadership roles. A prime example of an Elect-Her success story is AS President Carly Roberts. According to Roberts, had it not been for Elect-Her, she would not be in the same position as she is now.
“Elect-Her was really the first time I ever put a lot of thought into why women are underrepresented in our political system and that I could have a role - or even a responsibility - in exercising my skills and abilities in elected office,” Roberts said.
After attending Elect-Her for the past two years, Roberts recognizes the severity of the lack of female-identified representation in student, local, state and federal government.
“Numbers speak for themselves. Even though women now make up the majority of students in colleges, we are still woefully underrepresented in the top levels of student government,” Roberts said. “For example, on the Washington Student Association Board of Directors, there are 11 presidents. Two of us are women.”
In order to get the tools and knowledge needed to combat this lack of representation, sign up for Elect-Her before Feb. 7 at as.wwu.edu/rep
*Editor’s note: Cisgender is a term referring to people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.